My Not-To-Be-Read List

I have a to-be-read list that stretches on for about a mile.  (And I’m about to add to it, as I’m typing this post from an Amtrak train that is carrying me to Romance Writers of America’s annual meeting, where free books will be in abundance…) Of course, the mere fact that I have a TBR list implies that there are vast hordes of books on my not-to-be-read list. But I don’t think about the majority of those books.

Today, I’m thinking about one book in particular. The book that has received more press than any other single novel this year. The book that blew away previous pre-order records at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The book that sold 1.1 million copies in its first week on the market. The book that has resulted in much controversy, including a state investigation into the welfare of the author.

Of course, I’m talking about Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman.

To Kill a Mockingbird and I are old friends. I first met Lee’s novel in an odd library edition–an orange, hard-cover binding with a relatively modern image.

mockingbird

(You’ll have to imagine the orange background; the image gods were fortunate and did not turn up a copy!)

I read the book relatively late, in high school, where I participated on the speech team, specializing in Extemporaneous Prose. My junior year, Mockingbird was the book selected for competition. At each tournament, we competitors would draw a slip of paper that contained a 30-page section of the book. We had 15 minutes to prepare our presentation, then we had five minutes to present an edited dramatic presentation of those 30 pages.

I read Mockingbird dozens of times while preparing for competition, and I drew slips of paper a couple of dozen times during the year. I learned to present Scout’s voice, and Atticus’s, and all the supporting characters. I went to State in competition, where I placed in the top three competitors in my category.

Since high school, I’ve re-read Mockingbird a couple of times. I’m always impressed by the language, by the evocation of a time and a place. I’ve followed the controversies through the years. (Did Truman Capote really write the book? Why is Harper Lee such a recluse? Why hasn’t Harper Lee written anything else?)

And then, as we all know, we learned that Lee did write something else.

Or maybe not. From the reports I’ve read, it seems as if Lee wrote earlier drafts of Mockingbird. She developed her characters and her theme. She created a plot. She revised her work, likely several times. She shifted her story from a “coming home” story to a “growing up” story. Now, that first version–the “coming home” story, Go Set a Watchman–is being marketed as a separate novel.

It’s impossible for any outsider to know the truth behind Mockingbird and Watchman. Lee may know, if she’s still compos mentis. Her attorney, who brought Watchman to light, knows. A handful of other people may know parts of the story.

But I have chosen to accept this version of the narrative: Lee locked away Watchman, never intending it to be published. It was a draft, a version of a story that did not reflect her ultimate vision of her characters, her plot, or her theme. Lee will never profit from the sale of Watchman; she is unable to use the vast sums of money that should be flowing to her from the sale of the book. And I will not participate in the Watchman celebration.

I fully understand that reasonable minds may differ regarding Watchman. I don’t think less of people who choose to buy the work and/or to read it. But I hope that each person who does support Watchman has thought through the implications of their choice and does so knowingly and with consideration before action.

P.S. For what it’s worth, I see the Watchman situation as different from Ralph Ellison’s Juneteenth. Ellison was also a great American writer. He also wrote a single book, Invisible Man, that is widely read and generally considered a masterpiece. He also lived a relatively reclusive life, resisting society’s urging to publish more during his lifetime. After his death, he was found to have been working on another novel, which was published posthumously. But unfinished work is different, to me, from finished-and-boxed-under-the-bed work.

 

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I Have Been Remiss (Book Launch Edition)

Hey there!  Remember me?

I’ve spent the past week neck-deep in non-writing book work — you know, the type of thing they warn you about when you decide to self-publish books.  I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice to say, I have forced Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, AND iBooks to bend to my will.  (Insert evil laugh.)  And I have a *damn* fine spreadsheet to maintain the data I’ve been generating.

All of which makes me happy, but adds up to my being a pretty boring person for the past seven days.  And probably for the next seven too.

But!  But wait!  But I have exciting news to share!  And I’m only a week late in the sharing!

WickedlyWonderful_cover_revise final

My friend, Deborah Blake, is celebrating the release of her second novel, WICKEDLY WONDERFUL, the second volume in her series about Baba Yaga.  Or *a* Baba Yaga.  If you read the book, you’ll know what I mean.

Here’s the scoop:

Known as the wicked witch of Russian fairy tales, Baba Yaga is not one woman, but rather a title carried by a chosen few. They keep the balance of nature and guard the borders of our world, but don’t make the mistake of crossing one of them…

Though she looks like a typical California surfer girl, Beka Yancy is in fact a powerful yet inexperienced witch who’s struggling with her duties as a Baba Yaga. Luckily she has her faithful dragon-turned-dog for moral support, especially when faced with her biggest job yet…

A mysterious toxin is driving the Selkie and Mer from their homes deep in the trenches of Monterey Bay. To investigate, Beka buys her way onto the boat of Marcus Dermott, a battle-scarred former U.S. Marine, and his ailing fisherman father.

While diving for clues, Beka drives Marcus crazy with her flaky New Age ideas and dazzling blue eyes. She thinks he’s rigid and cranky (and way too attractive). Meanwhile, a charming Selkie prince has plans that include Beka. Only by trusting her powers can Beka save the underwater races, pick the right man, and choose the path she’ll follow for the rest of her life…

You can get your very own copy wherever books are sold.  But just to get you started, here’s a link to Amazon, to Barnes & Noble, and to Indiebound.

So?  What are you waiting for?  You know you want to escape the holiday chaos and get some *fun* reading done!  Get to work!

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Is It Fanfic If It’s a Classic?

This post talks about Daphne du Maurier’s REBECCA and Charlotte Bronte’s JANE EYRE.  If you haven’t read both and you don’t want to be spoiled on the endings, then stop reading right now.  (But really.  They’ve both been around for long enough that if you don’t know the ending and worry about spoilerage, I really hope you’re fifteen or younger :-) )

So…  Last night, we watched the 1940 movie of REBECCA, which I’d never seen before.  I was amused to see how clearly I remembered the book — down to most of the dialog.  The first time I read the book was in ninth grade, but I know I re-read it at least twice in high school.  (As an aside, in an interesting mini-documentary after the film, I learned that Hitchcock originally adapted the novel to be very different from the book — he changed the story, created new scenes that emphasized the psychological dimensions of the events, and generally created a derivative work (in the copyright sense) — until David O Selznick told him, “We paid a lot for the book, and we’re going to use it, thank you very much.”)

Some time before I first read REBECCA, I first read JANE EYRE.  (We had to read WUTHERING HEIGHTS in eighth grade, and that set off a spate of Bronte-reading among my friends…)

So how is it that I didn’t realize REBECCA was the same story as JANE EYRE until last night?!?

Young girl, orphaned and alone.  Experienced man, sweeping her off her feet, taking her from obnoxious protector(s).  Spooky haunted house, with areas girl is not supposed to go.  Revelation of existence/nature of crazy (ex-)wife.  Fire destroying house (and naivete, and the old way of doing things, etc.)

I was an English major.  I’m supposed to parse these things in my sleep.  But I don’t remember anyone ever commenting that these stories are THE EXACT SAME STORIES.  I’m sure they did, and I just ignored them.  But wow.  Eyes now opened (and I can see, because, you know, Maxim wasn’t blinded.  Big difference in the stories there 😛 )

::shaking head::

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Feeling a Little Wicked?

Amazingly enough, FROM LEFT FIELD wasn’t the only book released this past Tuesday!  I am absolutely thrilled to announce the publication of Deborah Blake’s first novel, WICKEDLY DANGEROUS!

WickedlyDangerous_hires

Deborah was one of my first editing clients, years back.  Over time, we’ve become good friends (we regularly write emails to each other that are longer than most novels!)  Deborah has a long career as a non-fiction writer, publishing a variety of pagan-related books with Llewellyn.  WICKEDLY DANGEROUS draws on that background in magic, but Deborah has added a marvelous unique touch, basing her story on Russian folklore.

Here’s the back of the book blurb:

Known as the wicked witch of Russian fairy tales, Baba Yaga is not one woman, but rather a title carried by a chosen few. They keep the balance of nature and guard the borders of our world, but don’t make the mistake of crossing one of them…

Older than she looks and powerful beyond measure, Barbara Yager no longer has much in common with the mortal life she left behind long ago. Posing as an herbalist and researcher, she travels the country with her faithful (mostly) dragon-turned-dog in an enchanted Airstream, fulfilling her duties as a Baba Yaga and avoiding any possibility of human attachment.

But when she is summoned to find a missing child, Barbara suddenly finds herself caught up in a web of deceit and an unexpected attraction to the charming but frustrating Sheriff Liam McClellan.
Now, as Barbara fights both human enemies and Otherworld creatures to save the lives of three innocent children, she discovers that her most difficult battle may be with her own heart…

When I read a draft of this book, I was blown away by the creativity and the *fun* of the story.  Deborah combines real-life environmental concerns with a fantastic take on the otherworldly.  And you can buy your copy today!  (Amazon | Penguin | B&N | Indiebound)

 

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Do You Re-read Books?

This past weekend, I curled up in my comfy red-and-gold chair (after removing the gold cat, who makes the chair more gold than red), and I re-read THE HOBBIT.  I haven’t read THE HOBBIT since …  maybe college?  High school?  Maybe even junior high?

Hobbit3

(I know that I first read the book as required reading in fifth grade, and I re-read it numerous times in middle school.  The copy I read this past weekend was highly annotated — I planned on turning the novel into a play, and I struck through vast quantities of narration so that all of the dialog was ripe for the plucking.  The strike-throughs didn’t keep me from reading this time around, but I can’t *imagine* what I was thinking about my future as an adaptor.  Although, I did adapt THE LITTLE PRINCE and ILLUSIONS for successful school plays in ninth grade, so maybe I *was* onto something!)

In any case, it was a fun book to re-read.  I remembered huge swaths of the story (although, oddly, I’d almost completely forgotten about Beorn.)  I justified my wrath with the bloated movie version.  I laughed at some of the quaint language.

I actually intend to re-read LotR in the near future.  But generally, I don’t re-read books very often.  I don’t have a lot of time to read, because I work from home, so I no longer have a subway commute to fill with great books.  I’m a slow reader, so any book I choose to read represents a fairly substantial investment of my time.  A lot of my reading choices are occupied by books that I *must* read — either for editing clients, or for the Book View Cafe co-op, or to stay abreast of developments in the genres where I write.  All of those factors combine to make re-reads “cost” a lot.

But there are long lists of books I want to re-read — Patricia McKillip’s THE FORGOTTEN BEASTS OF ELD.  R.A. MacAvoy’s TEA WITH THE BLACK DRAGON.  The early Pern books.  Etc., etc., etc.  Obviously, I need to manage my time a lot better than I’m currently doing.

So.  How about you?  Do you re-read books?  If you do, how do you choose which ones to re-read?  How often do you set aside books, realizing that they aren’t as good as you remember them to be?  How often do you discover greater depths that you missed on earlier rounds?

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